SC man pranks Bluffton Facebook group for April Fool’s Day

James Merli kneeling in front of the safe that fooled hundreds of people.

James Merli kneeling in front of the safe that fooled hundreds of people.

April Fool! Hundreds of people this week were duped by a recent Facebook post uploaded to a local group.

James Merli of Beaufort, SC posted a seemingly fascinating article on Monday about a “mysterious” safe found at a construction site along Highway 170. The safe in question was photographed next to a lot discovered near an excavator. He was wrapped in a tarp and covered with dirt. Captioning the post, Merli asked the band members if anyone knew a good locksmith. He then described the weight of the safe and inquired about the legality of keeping the object and its contents.

To her surprise, the next day, Merli’s post caught the attention of hundreds of Facebook users. Many were eagerly awaiting an update on the contents of the vault, while others remained skeptical of the truth behind the message. As there was now a host of people behind the story, Merli addressed the public in a comment under his initial post, seeming surprised at the attention his alleged investigation had garnered. He then apologized for not being able to answer the many questions and comments he received and wrote that a locksmith would soon open it. He said the public will receive an update by Thursday or Friday.

The skeptical, eagle-eyed Facebook group members turned out to be right! It was all a decoy.

“I mean, I thought it would be funny just, like, for my own amusement, but also, if it wasn’t store related, I wouldn’t just be messing with people.” Merli said. “Everyone loves a good safe, everyone loves a good mystery. I wanted to get them engaged,” he continued.

Although many believed the vault had been excavated from the ground on Monday, it had in fact been photographed at the site a week prior in preparation for the Facebook post.

Merli had never expected her post to attract so much attention. “It had been up for 60 minutes and already had over 60 comments.” he said. “I knew the first time I watched it an hour later that it was going to explode.”

By Thursday afternoon, the post in question had generated more than 400 reactions and 300 comments.

“I like to see the range of responses. Thomas’ doubts and people with absolute certainty of who it is and what’s in it, sort of thing.

Merli concocted this false discovery to draw attention to her new luxury pet hotel, which will be franchised to open in late summer. This location, which is currently under construction near Highway 170, was the site where his safe was photographed and believed to have been found. The revelation of this April Fool’s prank will be posted under the Facebook feed and various other social media platforms on Friday.

Although some Facebook users began to question the legitimacy of his claims, he still enjoyed creating the trick.

“Every time the idea popped into my head, just, like, this dizziness and this feeling of, ‘Oh this is going to be fun. It’s going to work’ and this is the first time I’ve seen the message with any the attention it got,” Merli said. “It’s rare that something works as well as you thought it would.”

What will happen to the now popular vault?

“I will always have a good memory of it and I will always have it.” Merli said. “It will always have a special meaning for me. Whether or not this is something I want to highlight in the store, I’m not sure yet.

Sarah Claire McDonald is a duty reporter for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. She specializes in writing unique, audience-focused stories that highlight people, places and events in the Lowcountry. Originally from the Midwest, Sarah Claire studied news media, communication and English at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, where she graduated in 2021.

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